The One-Word Answer to Better Horsemanship: Yoga

In this excerpt from her book Yoga for Riders, yoga instructor and horsewoman Cathy Woods shows us how the practice of yoga can redefine you as a horse person.

I am often asked, “What does yoga have to do with horsemanship?”

The answer is, “A lot!”

At first glance, it seems obvious how yoga can help riders. In fact, several books have been written about the use of yoga postures to support equestrians—through increased flexibility, strength, and balance—and this is a valid application, which will be covered here as well. However, as a longtime yogini (a woman dedicated to yoga tradition) and equine enthusiast, I am here to tell you that’s just the tip of the iceberg! I plan to take you on a journey to a deeper meaning of yoga and how it can apply to horsemanship (and life) in ways you may have never considered.

Like yoga, the horse world also has many facets and is not just for the hard-core enthusiasts. People who are drawn to horses find various ways to fill that desire; not everyone is destined to be an expert rider or trainer. It isn’t feasible for everyone to own a horse, so some people lease one. Other people might volunteer, for instance, at rescue organizations. Some owners must board their horses, while there are those of us who keep our horses at home. We share our daily lives with them, with all the commitment that entails.

One of the beautiful things about both yoga and horsemanship is they are never-ending journeys, allowing us to continue to grow, learn, and expand—isn’t that what life is about?

Photo by Carol Engan Borrelli

True Yoga

The dedicated practice of true yoga can enrich your life in so many ways. It can lead to a more skilled and fulfilling life: you become “awake,” more conscious, your senses are heightened; your mind is sharper, with an overall integration and balancing of body, mind, and spirit. For me, the yogic path has created a keen awareness, not only on the yoga mat, but off as well. Aware of what, you might say? Well—everything!

  1. Body: Sensations; how to better care for the body; knowing where tensions are stored; accepting the body; working from where the body is today.
  1. Breathing: Patterns; proper breathing; breath as a tool to energize and oxygenate; breathing through challenges; breath to offset negative emotions; breathing to help refine the nervous system; using breath as a focal point.
  1. Energy: Awareness of life-force energy, known in yoga as “prana,” which flows through each of us, enabling us to live and animate. Energy of creation; detecting energy; feeling or sensing when energy shifts.
  1. Mind/Thoughts: Observing the workings of the mind; seeing where thoughts come from (conditioning, product of environment, borrowed opinions, fear, ego, soul contentment, and more); understanding that we are not our thoughts; learning to observe the mind (thoughts).
  1. Intuition: Listening to the inner voice, which always speaks to us. Improving our intuitive skills.
  1. Truth: An understanding of the truth of our existence, our purpose, what our own truth is and means; extrapolating universal truth.
  1. Right Thought/Right Action: Comes spontaneously when we are clear and integrated in the body, mind, and spirit.
  1. Interconnectedness: Breaking through the illusion of separateness; experiencing union; union with all aspects of ourselves, union with a higher power (however you like to define that term); union with all of creation—other humans, animals, and nature.

These are some of the many benefits of being on the yogic path. A good horseman of any discipline might say these are beneficial skills when interacting with horses, as well. In fact, this is likely not new information to horse people—they are usually aware of these concepts and how they tie into working with horses. When I share these teachings with experienced equestrians, it is not uncommon for them to say, “That’s what I’ve been doing, I just never thought of it in that way!” Or, “I never really made the connection with yoga.” It may be that I am simply presenting the relationship between yoga and horsemanship in a new way, with new words and language.

I believe that horse whisperers—adept natural horsemen—are yogis! They may not even be aware that much of what they do in horsemanship is yogic in essence. Yogis read body language, energy, pauses, expressions, actions, reactions, and act on them. They operate from a place of inner knowing and intuition. I think you’ll agree that a horse whisperer embodies these same abilities.

When you mindfully and deliberately integrate the principles (not just the postures) of yoga into your horsemanship, the effects are pronounced, profound, and beneficial. Not only does your relationship with yourself and your horse improve, but you will begin applying these principles to all arenas of life, including your interactions with fellow humans and in life situations.

This excerpt from Yoga for Riders by Cathy Woods is reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books. You can purchase the text or get more information here